Tools of Time Management, 2: The List

Is your head spinning with too many things to do? Can’t decide which task to tackle first? (Cartoon). Make a list! Overcome the limits of working memory by writing everything down.

Often this simple act provides clarity about what to do next. If not, try some of the following strategies:

  • Categorize the actions on the list. Consider grouping them:
  • Estimate the amount of time each task or project might take. How much progress can you reasonably make in the time available? To refine your predictions, keep track of how much time tasks actually take.
  • Subdivide: if any item on the list seems overwhelming, break it into the smallest steps imaginable (what David Allen calls “Next Actions”).
  • Eliminate unnecessary tasks.
  • Roll the dice. Sometimes extensive planning (and no action) can be a form of procrastination. I keep a six-sided die in my office to roll when I have several equally important (or distasteful) tasks to work on. That way I save my decision-making energy for the tasks, not the sequencing.

Other posts in this series:

Tools of Time Management, 4: Routines

Tools of Time Management, 3: Wide Margins

Tools of Time Management, 1: The Calendar